Israeli military forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in retaliation for the capture of a soldier during last summer’s war against the militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, a leading human rights organization said Wednesday.
An analysis of hundreds of photographs and video, satellite imagery and interviews with witnesses suggests that Israeli forces deliberately targeted residential areas during four days of bombardments in the southern Gaza city of Rafah beginning on Aug. 1, said Deborah Hyams, a researcher for the London-based Amnesty International.
At least 135 civilians were killed in the air and ground attacks, according to a report released by the group.
The assault continued even after Israel declared the missing officer, Lt. Hadar Goldin, dead a day after he was reported captured during an attack by the militant group Hamas, Hyams said at a news conference in Jerusalem.
Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, said the evidence included in the report demanded “immediate punitive measures against the occupation commanders” and urged that it be made available to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
However, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the report was “fundamentally flawed in its methodologies, in its facts, in its legal analysis and in its conclusions.”
“There is almost no mention of the military actions of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations,” ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in a statement.
In previous reports, Amnesty said Hamas may also have committed war crimes by firing rockets and mortar rounds indiscriminately into Israel. The group also accused the militants of summarily executing Palestinians they said were collaborating with Israel.
According to the latest report, Israel on Aug. 1 implemented a secretive and controversial procedure known as the Hannibal Directive, which allows the army to respond to the capture of a soldier with intense fire -- irrespective of the risk to the service member or the surrounding civilian population.
The bombardments began as Palestinian civilians were taking advantage of a declared pause in the hostilities to return to abandoned homes to see what they could salvage.
“There is overwhelming evidence that Israeli forces committed disproportionate, or otherwise indiscriminate, attacks that killed scores of civilians in their homes, on the streets and in vehicles, and injured many more, including through repeated use of artillery and other imprecise explosive weapons in densely populated civilian areas,” the report says. “In some cases, there are indications that they directly fired at and killed civilians, including some who were fleeing.”
The massive use of firepower “was apparently intended to punish the city,” Hyams said.
The report was compiled with Forensic Architecture, a research team based at the University of London. Attempts to obtain information from the Israeli government that could assist with the investigation were not successful, Amnesty said.
The Israel Defense Forces are conducting their own investigation of the events in Rafah, the Foreign Ministry said.
Abukhater is a special correspondent.